Charles's Reviews > Radiance

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
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Oct 24, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: science-fiction, stat_2, reviewed

Stuff I Read – Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente Review

I've not actually read that many books or stories that have featured the vivid, life-filled worlds of our solar system. The hopes for a bountiful Eden on each planet. I know there are entire collections full of them, but I personally never was that invested in those depictions. Perhaps because they wouldn't even be considered "science fiction" now by many people. They are called works of fantasy set among the stars. Which is, I hasten to point out, rather crap. I don't adhere to the usefulness of strict genre terms, and so yes, this is very much a science fiction, and it's science fiction of a tradition that I want to read more of. A mix of pulp adventure and social commentary, Flash Gordon splash and dazzle that feels almost innocent except for the excesses, except for the damage being done. This book does a lot of things, and it does them all very well, surprising with an emotionally devastating mystery that spans the entire solar system.

The book is built, brick by brick, around the absence of Severin Unck, whose father is a famous director and whose almost every living moment has been recorded. Like something out of Poe the book walls itself around the void she has left, slowly exploring it and all the lives left shattered at her disappearance. It's a mystery but not the kind featured here, with a dashing detective, nor is the noir variety with the dim lights and threats of violence. It's a mystery of scale and scope and person, of yearning and intent. Severin is gone and she remains in the movies left behind, in the stories. But her fate is largely unknown, guessed at only, and even the most conclusive of theories in the novel might only be the wild imaginings of a father obsessed with the gothic and the strange.

The form of the book is striking, a novel told through texts, organized to be a coherent whole. There's a bit of a learning curve with this but it is one that, once climbed, makes things go incredibly fast. It's compelling, watching everything circle around what happened on Venus, the aftermath that led to Pluto, to the Moon. Everything here, the characters and the personalities and the stories, all of them are out in the open, all posed and captured for a reason. Everything in manufactured in this world, everything a clever deception, and yet in that deception there is a certain honesty, a pattern that can be followed and recognized and enjoyed. It's movie magic, and it's that magic that infuses the novel with its wonder, with its grandeur. All the more impacting are the moments of ugliness, the mentions of riots and death and darkness and creatures so strange they defy not only human imagination but space and time as well.

It's not a very linear story that is told, but it is a rich one, and each planet gets its time to shine, its own personality. Severin is explored through the people around her, through her father's attempt to make sense of her disappearance and through her various mothers, her lovers, her friends. I loved the way it all came together, the way the puzzle was meticulously snapped, piece by piece, into place. It's a bit of a strange read, but it's definitely one of the best books I read in 2015 and certainly one to take the time to read carefully. A 9.25/10 for me.
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Reading Progress

October 24, 2015 – Started Reading
October 24, 2015 – Shelved
November 7, 2015 –
page 244
56.88% "Quite interesting so far. I love the setting and the central mystery. Can't wait to see where it goes!"
November 20, 2015 –
page 432
100% "Wow. I love the structure of this, the framing. And the story, of course. And setting. And...well, I like it. Review to come in a bit!"
November 20, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction
November 20, 2015 – Shelved as: stat_2
November 20, 2015 – Finished Reading
January 7, 2016 – Shelved as: reviewed

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